Wednesday, July 30, 2008

the Reaganite fallacy

A revelation that I wish people would talk about: John McCain has been touring the country in $500 Italian leather shoes. Not that I care that he wears expensive shoes, but because it proves a current media double standard. Imagine, after all, if a Democrat were caught making an intemperate purchase. That, ultimately, brings up another question: if John McCain is guilty of intemperate spending, and John Edwards is guilty of hypocrisy for engaging in intemperate spending while arguing that poor people aren't getting a fair shake, then the inevitable logical conclusion is either:

a) John McCain thinks poor people are getting what they deserve, or

b) John McCain is also guilty of hypocrisy.

If no one with a microphone is going to point out the greater truth that it's not hypocritical to be rich and yet want to help poor people, then will someone at least point out that the rules should apply to McCain as well?

This is an example of the kind of moral corruption I like to call "free market fundamentalism." It goes back, in some form or another, all the way through history, but it's most recent and bizarre manifestation was popularized by Reagan's gospel of wealth, or the "fuck it: if you got it, flaunt it!" approach to the ethics of wealth.

We Americans have always had a tense relationship to wealth. It all goes back to the ol' Protestant work ethic and the Calvinist belief in predestination: strong work ethic, which is a sign of salvation, generates wealth. Therefore, wealthy people are more likely to be part of the elect than the poor. On the other hand, conspicuous consumption is a sign of greed, which is a sin, or Catholicism, which is even worse. Thus for much of American history the goal was to be rich, but not too rich. A 5th or 6th bathroom is probably okay, but don't put any gold in it! Complicated, intricate jewelry is beautiful; just not too much of it! You don't want to look like you're from New Orleans or some other gaudy place. A limo is fine, but no jets! Who are we, the Pope? Even to this day, no one, no matter what their income, is willing to refer to themselves as either "rich" or "poor."

Then Reagan came in with a compelling message. There's nothing wrong with being rich, said St. Ronnie; in fact, being rich is just a sign that you work hard and God has blessed your home! See, "the market" is a sort of crucible of work that elevates the diligent and destroys the lazy; it does God's work! That's why all you good, God-fearing white people in the suburbs are wealthy, and why the good ol' US of A is the richest nation on earth. That, of course, can only mean that poor people are poor because the market/God has chosen not to bless them, obviously because they're lazy and decadent. After all, do you really think it's a coincidence that Protestant countries are richer than Catholic ones? And if you're not rich, just work hard and God/the market will make you rich, because people who work hard make money in a free market. Unless, of course, the government takes Godly people's money away and hands it to those "other" people, those who didn't work for it (and of course, we know they didn't work for it because they don't already have money. Are you keeping up?). Luckily, the only people who want to do that are the poor themselves and rich people who got their money without work, who are "less familiar with the rigors of the marketplace" as one douchebag I found put it.

It is because of this moral fallacy that we implicitly accept the argument that it is hypocritical-- and, ergo, immoral-- to be rich and advocate for the poor, but it is not immoral to be rich and ignore the poor.

I think on some level Edwards' stance on the poor throws the weakness and decadence of the morality of free market fundamentalism into sharp relief, and that's why otherwise intelligent people are all too happy to resort to the "hypocrisy" claptrap even despite a logic that is both clearly flawed and entirely self-serving. The market must be fair. If it is not, then this entire moral universe, within which dwell the ethics of taxation, government spending, immigration, regulation, environmentalism, and workers' rights careens off its axis.

a note on the VP search

Pay no attention to the supposed "short lists" being passed around. The purveyors of conventional wisdom usually blow this call. In fact, one could argue that hype actually diminishes a person's chances of being picked because, optimally, you want people to be both happy with the selection and surprised by it. It makes a bigger "splash" that way.

If the Obama campaign knows what it's doing, they'll find someone with "gravitas" who is affiliated in the popular mind neither with Washington nor with the Democratic party proper. People associate Tom Daschle, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden with both.

more on chain emails, or moron chain emails

Haven't received this one personally (at least, not since it was the Clinton one), but it looks like Barack's hit the big time: he's got his own death list. Some of the best entries:
MERCEDES HUGLEY, one of Obama's many white, female conquests while at Harvard. Filed sexual assault charges against Obama for date rape in 1990. Because "date rape" was not considered a crime like it is today, she ended up dropping the charges. Two years later, she was found dead of an apparent cocaine overdose.

Why is it significant that the conquests were white? And did you like the part where Hughley is allowed to file rape charges, is then told "I'm sorry, ma'am, date rape is still legal in this country," and then has to drop the charges?
HASAD AL SHAREEZ - FBI informant. Reported to his handler in January 2001 that he had a tape about of a person named simply "B. Hussein" meeting with 9/11 hijacker Mohatma Atta in Prague. Was found shot in the basement of a mosque in Dearborn, MI in October, 2001.

That's right, folks, Barack Obama is now apparently part of the 9/11 conspiracy. He would have had a lot to offer people wanting to destroy buildings in New York and Washington, being a state senator in Illinois and all. Bonus credibility points for referring to Mohammed Atta as "Mohatma."
KEYSHAWN "SPOON" CALWORTH - Was found dead of an apparent heroin overdose May 18, 1997. Was reported to have ties to Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

"Ties to Rev. Jeremiah Wright?" That's it? Boy, they really phoned that one in, eh? Though you have to admit, these are awfully suspicious circumstances. I mean, what are the chances of a guy named "Spoon" dying of a heroine overdose?

And my personal favorite:
DARSANO RAHARDJO - Childhood classmate of Barack Obama when he attended a madrassa in Indonesia. Was found with his head cut off in a Jakarta alley way in 1970. Many children at the school attributed Rahardjo's murder to the young Barack Obama. It was likely done as an initiation ritual, since Islam demands that a boy spill another's blood before the age of ten to prove their loyalty to Allah. [emphasis added]

not just jokes to everybody

I'm sure you've all heard about the shooting in Knoxville by now, in which a crazed ultraconservative neoconfederate nutball took a shotgun and 76 rounds into a Unitarian Universalist chapel and started mowing people down during a children's musical. Turns out he had a couple of choice authors on his bookshelf: Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly. Neiwert reminds us that Chad Castagana, the crazy bastard who mailed fake anthrax letters to various famous liberals, was a Free Republic commenter who loved to read him some Michelle Malkin.

But hey, that joke about the liberal hunting license is a real knee slapper, am I right?

Monday, July 28, 2008

it's still okay if you're a Republican

Atrios links to this picture from Crawford Ranch, pre-election 2000.

'Tis the season

Just got my first conservative chain email in 4 years. Did you know that Cindy and John McCain are living embodiments of family values?

There was a, well, shall we say "lacuna" in the narrative around the time that a middle-aged John McCain left his disabled wife for a buxom blonde former USC cheerleader nearly 18 years his junior who also happened to be a fabulously wealthy heiress to a beer distributing fortune. I sent out a mass reply adding that part.

Hopefully after the election I'll be able to send the sender a recipe for humble pie, ripped off from the Food Network, of course.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

getting hitched: and so it begins...

Anyone out there feeling a bit randy?

Just buy a wedding cake. There's no more reliable way to get screwed.

Except, perhaps, to buy anything else remotely associated with a wedding. $42.50 a head for catering? For buffet-style self service? $175 for a f**king bridal bouquet? Seriously?

You can try to pry $175 out of my cold, dead hands!

a lesson about judging books by covers

Due to some issues with the manufacturer, we had to take our electric lawnmower to a Mennonite repairman out in the sticks outside of Osceola. He had the whole 19th century clothes and Abe Lincoln beard thing going on, and his workshop had a carriage outside of it. It smelled of lavender and horse manure (the workshop, not the carriage. Well, probably the carriage, too, if it had sat out there long enough, but you know what I mean).

Just got our mower back. Works better than it ever did. Go figure.

The Dark Knight

[potential spoilers in this post, read at your own peril]

Great, great movie. Pretty morally ambiguous for a superhero film, which makes it even more fascinating to watch. A buddy of mine noted how much of a post-9/11 movie this is, as it invokes some of our privacy vs. security debates and fear of terrorists blowing up buildings and whatnot. Maybe someone's already spilled barrels of ink discussing the Joker is the ultimate terrorist, playing upon all our caricatures of them. Rene makes some good observations, especially about the more technical aspects of the film.

Rene is also right about the Joker and the screenplay writer's choice not to flesh out his back story. To take it a step further, in point of fact Nolan's Joker actively mocks the audience's expectation to be provided some sort of pop psychological justification for the Joker's madness. The Joker is not some mere lunatic with an agenda like Scarecrow (or, frankly, like Tim Burton's Joker); he's a primal force, a manifestation of Chaos, the perfect counter to Batman, the embodiment of cold, rigid Order. The two of them are locked in a perpetual struggle for the soul of Gotham, both utterly unyielding in their demand that the city conform to their ethos, while everyone else is stuck being pulled in either direction, trying to navigate a survivable path between the two.

This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.

Batman and the Joker share one big thing in common: both are fundamentally outsiders to the rest of humanity. The Joker lives off the grid, and has no records or Social Security number or last known address or even legal name. Batman is similarly separate from the system, even though he, at least, has an alter ego. Both are scorned by the city they are trying to change, labeled as "freaks." And, of course, both act in fundamentally deviant manners. After all, Bruce Wayne is a man whose parents were brutally murdered in front of him and who satiates his unquenchable trauma-induced rage by moonlighting as a vigilante dressed up as his childhood phobia. He is not exactly what we would consider a pinnacle of clear-eyed sanity, and no one highlights that fact as effectively as the Joker. There is a question in this movie as to which one of them is more self aware, as there should be.

This movie focuses on that struggle between these two primal forces via the battle for the soul of Harvey Dent, who is the real focus of the movie. What's interesting about it is, as those of you have seen the movie or are acquainted with the Batman universe know [spoiler alert!], the Joker wins that battle. In fact, in an ironic turn, it is the Joker's victory that prevents Batman from retiring.

For me, the most surprising casualty of The Dark Knight was actually my appreciation for Batman (1989). I'd never really realized before just how badly Tim Burton shortchanged the yin and yang rivalry between Batman and the Joker by allowing Batman a complete and total victory and carelessly tossing the Joker aside at the end of the movie. Also, seeing Heath Ledger completely disappear behind a thin, patchy coat of makeup makes the 1989 version look a little too much like Jack Nicholson playing the Joker playing Jack Nicholson. And yes, Ledger deserves an Oscar nomination for creating the best villain in any superhero movie ever.

Oh, and those of you who've been to Chicago will recognize Millenium Station, City Hall, and I believe W. Wacker Dr.

sustainable living: the sports utility bike

No way!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

the curtain's closing, time to ditch the props

Looks like the cowboy manly man president is hocking the ranch. From Huffington Post:
An ABC-TV outlet in Houston, and now the Houston Chronicle, have posted a video taken at a political fundraiser for Pete Olson, featuring George W. Bush last week -- capturing some embarrassing/revealing moments after, he noted, he had asked cameras to be turned off.
Then, making light of the foreclosure crisis, he said: "And then we got a housing issue... not in Houston, and evidently not in Dallas, because Laura's over there trying to buy a house. [great laughter] I like Crawford but unfortunately after eight years of sacrifice, I am apparently no longer the decision maker."

Aside from styling himself as "bilingual," Bush making his home at the Prairie Chapel Ranch has been the most absurd act of political theatrics ever uncritically sold to us by our sycophantic press. The "ranch" was a pig farm until 1999, when Karl Rove convinced the Texas governor to buy it. The "ranch house" (actually the mansion) wasn't completed until Election Day 2000. It has no horses, supposedly because the president is afraid of them, and it has some cattle, but they aren't his. The estate includes a helicopter hangar, but no barn. And lo and behold! his presidency isn't even over yet, and he's moving back to the city.

Long after his presidency is over and America has either stood up for change or boarded the Crazy Train, we'll suddenly hear George Stephanopoulos and David Brooks talking matter-of-factly about the obvious phoniness of George W. Bush's cowboy antics, as if they have always spoken openly about the surreality of watching a sitting president, the son of Connecticut yankees who spent his youth at Andover, Yale, and Harvard, dressed up like a 9 year old Will Rogers fan, clearing brush from a ranch that doesn't raise anything and despite having paid staff to maintain the estate. As if anyone in the press scoffed when Bush tried to sell his good ol' boy image with lines like how his best moment as president was "when I caught a 7 ½-pound largemouth bass on my lake," except that by "lake" he means man-made pond he had professionally constructed and stocked with 600 largemouth bass. As if any of the pundits who ridiculed Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for feigning a southern drawl ever questioned the authenticity of blue-blooded George W. Bush's exaggerated, mealy-mouthed twang.

Not that anyone else found it a little obvious or anything.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

the steel chair!

Because I'm sick of conventional sports metaphors in politics. We need more unconventional ones. This incident this weekend, then, was a pivotal moment. A Goldberg spear. The capturing of the queen. Losing Australia. From The Washington Independent:
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, "U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama talks about 16 months. That, we think, would be the right timeframe for a withdrawal, with the possibility of slight changes." Within hours, U.S. Central Command -- at the behest of a clearly worried White House -- released a statement arguing that Maliki was misquoted through a botched translation. But Monday, Maliki's spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said that the government was talking about "a timetable which Iraqis set." Asked when that timetable would run out, Dabbagh quickly specified, "2010."

As a result, the positions on Iraq of the Bush administration, the U.S. military and Sen. John McCain, the presumed GOP presidential nominee, now face numerous challenges. The administration's plans for a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq have been profoundly undermined. The military will have to adjust to a strategy of extrication. The McCain campaign is presented with one of its nightmare scenarios: the Iraqi premier embracing the judgment of its opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, which strengthens Obama's bona fides on a national-security issue McCain has largely staked his presidential bid on owning.

The weak link in all this, of course, is the media reporting of the events, which is a genuine X-factor considering their long-time love affair with St. John the Maverick. They've buried his flip flops and papered over his cringeworthy foreign policy gaffes, but can they avert their eyes and pretend not to notice that Maliki totally bankrupted McCain and Bush's primary argument for a permanent occupation of Iraq, handing Obama complete control of the crucial yellow/green corner of the board?

John McCain: foreign policy GENIUS!!!

Jon Stewart on the case. This, of course, comes on the heels of McCain referring to the defunct Soviet bloc nation of Czechoslovakia (twice!) and on multiple occasions misidentifying Al Qaeda as Shiite. In fact, he's done it so many times, both verbally and in written statements, that Mother Jones makes the most obvious, and scary, conclusion: he may, in fact, not recognize the difference between Sunni and Shia (to be more precise, what he may not grasp is the landscape of sectarian and ethnic divisions in the Middle East, the Mexican standoff between Arabs Sunni and Shiite, Kurds, Turks, and the various Afghan ethnic groups and regional warlords).

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Obamafication of the Republican Party, part 2

Josh Marshall notes the trend of the Bush Administration and the McCain campaign both quietly adopting Barack Obama's positions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran:
Let's run the list.

McCain and now the White House (via the DOD) are moving toward more US troops in Afghanistan -- a position they've each long opposed and which Obama has been on record in support of for at least a year.

Bush and McCain have each also in different ways tried to nudge closer to Obama's position on withdrawing troops from Iraq. The key shoe falling today is President Bush's embrace of a "time horizon" for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Meanwhile, McCain's declaration of military victory in Iraq seems very much like an effort to get people thinking the troops are coming home soon within the conceptual architecture of his professed goals in Iraq.

And finally Iran. I'm not certain what McCain himself has said about Iran in recent days. But over recent months a key line of attack from the president and John McCain has been that Obama is a latter-day Neville Chamberlain for saying we should negotiate with Iran. And now over recent days we've learned that the White House is sending one of its top diplomats to negotiate directly with Iran's nuclear negotiator. And there are growing signs the White House is poised to open a diplomatic interests section (an unofficial diplomatic outpost) in Tehran.

It may all just be an attempt to build some last-minute bragging rights while taking Iraq off the table in the election, but at the end of the day this is still John McCain and George W. Bush tacitly conceding that Barack is right about getting out of Iraq and negotiating with Ahmadinejad, and they were wrong.

One hell of a story, if you can find someone to report it.

not done with the Emmys, or David Caruso got robbed!

I keep thinking about all the shows got very love from the Emmy crowd, or none at all, because my opinions on current TV run directly against the conventional wisdom: I think TV right now may be better than it's ever been. The decision of HBO, Showtime, and basic cable channels to delve into the realm of quality programming, combined with some great network TV, has brought us an embarrassment of riches (or should I say Riches!), not only in the popular genres of crime drama and dramedy but also in more "niche" areas like sci-fi and period pieces. For instance, I think Battlestar Galactica might be the best sci-fi show ever, just as I'm pretty sure that The Wire is the best crime drama ever (and if it isn't, Dexter is for sure). And I'd put The Office or The Daily Show up against Seinfeld any day. What others?:

(Elizabeth Perkins should have won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series outright)
30 Rock
Burn Notice
How I Met Your Mother
(how does Neil Patrick Harris not win Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series every year?)
Late Night with Conan O'Brien
Friday Night Lights
Pushing Daisies
John Adams
Boston Legal
The Colbert Report
Flight of the Concords

And I didn't even include Big Love, The Tudors, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men, Tin Man, or Damages because I haven't seen them!

When, then, do the Emmys have any room at all for the likes of The New Adventures of Old Christine or According to Jim?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Emmy nominations

First off, the fact that Flight of the Concords have two songs nominated for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics is beautiful ("The Most Beautiful Girl (in the room)" and "Inner City Pressure"). The third song in that category?:


Also, the *outstanding* series Pushing Daisies got a lot of love this year, including Lee Pace getting a best comedy actor nomination and Kristen Chenowith for supporting actress.

As for the most disappointing aspects of the nomination list, I still fail to understand why:

1. they keep insisting on giving nominations to 2 and a Half Douchebags. Lots of them. Every damn year. Aside from issues of crusty formula and 1970's era misogyny, why the hell does Charlie Sheen get an Emmy for playing Charlie Sheen?

2. After ending its 5 year run this season, the best cop show ever shot, The Wire, received exactly 1 nomination, for writing. That brings its grand total to two emmy nominations. 2 and a Half Men got 7 this year alone. For God's sake, even Medium and NCIS got one nomination this year!

Also, Justin Kirk (Andy Botwin, Weeds) got robbed.

what is she thinking?

I tend to enjoy Stephanie Zacharek's film reviews in Salon, but lately I've been wondering what the hell happened to her taste. She poopoohed The Dark Knight (one of only 3 top critics on Rotten Tomatoes to do that), WALL-E, and, last year, both No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, and yet gave her blessings to Meet Dave, Drillbit Taylor, and You Don't Mess with the Zohan. Huh?

things you miss when you're not paying attention

I spent several minutes at the checkout counter at the grocery store yesterday wondering if my cashier would notice that I bought $95 worth things shaped like O's.

She never did.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


John McCain on July 13:
“I think that we’ve proven that both parents are important in the success of a family so, no, I don’t believe in gay adoption.”

John McCain on July 16:
"Sen. McCain's expressed his personal preference for children to be raised by a mother and a father wherever possible," the statement added. "However, as an adoptive father himself, McCain believes children deserve loving and caring home environments, and he recognizes that there are many abandoned children who have yet to find homes. John McCain believes that in those situations that caring parental figures are better for the child than the alternative."

Mmmm, that's some good straight talk!

This is increasingly becoming a bit of a "dog bites man" story.

David Caruso cheesy intro lines: the montage

I am born anew in the sublime absurdity of David Caruso's one-liners. I have breached the Chrysalis.

A great game would be to take turns making up more of these one liners while putting on a pair of sunglasses.

This show is a guilty pleasure of mine. It's so supremely ridiculous that it's hard not to smile when you're watching it. The CSI's in this show, pretty much all of whom work dressed to the 9's and could easily moonlight as underwear models, work as brilliant scientists in the most colorful, glitzy, crazy high-tech office I've ever seen, full of glass walls and neon oranges and blues (and that's about as well lit as a jazz club or a nudie bar). They solve every crime that crosses their path with indisputable certainty (as of course they would! After all, duh, it's science, dude!) and the perp always confesses at the end, almost always with that self-satisfied "yeah, you got me. Now let me tell you all about my brilliant diabolical plan!" schtick reminiscent of 1980's TV villains. Horatio is never wrong, never fooled and always a step ahead of everyone. In fact, he never even has to chase anyone; he's always already figured out whether and where they're gonna run, and has secretly positioned himself to intercept them without even his fellow CSI's any the wiser!

And the dialog... oh sweet Jesus the dialog... the very epitome of assuming the worst of your audience's intelligence. My favorite part is when they stop to explain the most painfully obvious ramifications of evidence they find, where it sounds about like:
"We got a return on those fingerprints you brought us from the murder weapon, Horatio. They don't match Jones."

"So Jones didn't kill him... someone else did."

"The police didn't apprehend anyone at the scene."

"So then the killer must still be at large."

It's pretty much the exact opposite of The Wire, which is realistic, clever, grungy, centered on the poor, low tech, and expects a lot from its audience in the sense of being able to make connections not explicitly made on camera.

a thought on the New Yorker cartoon

I'm apparently in the minority on this one (in bloggyville, anyway), but for starters, I don't have any problem with the cartoon. It brought out the same "heh" that most New Yorker cartoons do, actually. It's amusing in a clever sort of way, but not actually funny.

What I'm interested in, however, are parts of "the left's" mindset that led to their offense at the cartoon. Atrios:
I certainly don't think that the New Yorker cover is the biggest deal in the world, but the basic reason I find it problematic is that I look at it and I think, "Yes, well, that's what the Right says about the Obamas pretty much daily." It channels what they say, but they forgot to add the funny. Hamas loves Obama, he hates the flag and America, he's a Muslim, Michelle Obama is a black militant, etc. It isn't funny to me because I read this crap every day all day. This crap isn't just on obscure wingnut blogs, it's everywhere. G. Gordon Liddy is thrilled.

If in 2000 they'd ran a cover which expressed in various ways things like "Al Gore claimed he invented the internet," "Al Gore claims he discovered Love Canal," "Al Gore grew up in a fancy DC hotel," "Al Gore is such pandering politician that he's wearing 3 button suits and EARTH TONES" (no I've never understood this one either), it wouldn't have been a parody, it would have been channeling the media zeitgeist. The Obama thing? Not so different.

Jesse Taylor at Pandagon echoes those sentiments. Supposedly there are others claiming that "low information voters" will see the cartoon and believe it's intended to depict the real Obama, and I have seen that opinion among some commenters, but I haven't seen any of the more influential peeps say that. It's the least defensible of the arguments, so I'm glad it's pretty rare (I can just imagine Joe Bob the high school educated, FOX News viewing, NASCAR fan's reaction when he receives his copy of The New Yorker in the mail this week). Gary Kamiya swats the slower flies in his Salon article, but only touches on the meat of the matter, which is that these liberal voices don't see the cartoon as satirizing right wing/lazy media arguments, but as accurately reflecting them.

Really? Right wingers are arguing that Barack loves Osama bin Laden and hangs a portrait of him on his wall? They're arguing that Obama uses American flags as kindling? That Michelle is an actual, Kalashnikov-toting black militant? That the two of them are actual, genuine, literal terrorists? I doubt that very seriously, and no, that one chain email you got does not prove that these are, in fact, widespread conservative beliefs.

There are kernels of truth in each sub-image of the cartoon, sure ("truth" in the sense of arguments conservatives really are pushing), such as that Michelle harbors secret animosity toward whites and doesn't really "love America," or that Osama bin Laden would like Obama to win, or that Obama doesn't love the flag enough to wear it on his lapel, these images are obvious and dramatic exaggerations of such sentiments. Which is precisely the point of satire.

I think there's a lesson here about how it's easy, when you're engaging in a prolonged war of words with someone, to view their opinions as more radical than they really are.

the Obamafication of Republican foreign policy

We learned yesterday, despite a nearly complete media blackout on the story, that John McCain has abandoned his policy on Afghanistan and has adopted Barack Obama's. From the Huffington Post:
John McCain likes to paint Barack Obama as a naive follower on key national security issues. But by moving up his planned Afghanistan speech by two days to follow Obama's, and by agreeing that more U.S. troops are needed there, McCain appears to be following the Illinois Democrat on a major proposed shift for U.S. foreign policy.

Last month, Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said he needed at least three brigades shifted to Afghanistan, but that "troop constraints were preventing such a move."

Democrats trumpeted the statement as vindication, but McCain's campaign held its line and "resisted calls for more [U.S.] troops" in Afghanistan.
Flash-forward to today. As the AP reported, McCain was set to discuss the economy, with an address on Afghanistan scheduled for Thursday. But the campaign ditched its planned focus on jobs (although not its banner) to follow Obama's lead -- not only by talking about national security but by joining him in calling for more American troops in Afghanistan.

Nearly an hour after Obama finished his D.C. speech, in which he repeated his call for "at least two additional combat brigades" to be sent to Afghanistan, McCain stepped to his podium across the country in New Mexico and tried to one-up his Democratic rival. As McCain's website now says, the Arizona Republican wants "at least three additional brigades" for the fight in Afghanistan.

Barack Obama: a leader John McCain can believe in.

Following that, we hear this morning of a striking reversal in a notorious Bush Administration. From AP:
In a break with past Bush administration policy, a top U.S. diplomat will for the first time join colleagues from other world powers at a meeting with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, The Associated Press has learned.

William Burns, America's third highest-ranking diplomat, will attend talks with the Iranian envoy, Saeed Jalili, in Switzerland on Saturday aimed at persuading Iran to halt activities that could lead to the development of atomic weapons, a senior U.S. official told the AP on Tuesday.

Now who was it again who not only advocated talking to our enemies as a central feature of his foreign policy plan, but took an enormous amount of grief from both George W. Bush and John McCain, as well as his fellow primary candidates for it?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Barack the politician

Ryan Lizza writes a mammoth of a bio piece in The New Yorker on Obama from 1991 until 2004, a part of his life not dwelled upon in his books or speeches. It's very good. It takes a fiercely pragmatic take on Obama's early political career and is not very generous regarding the motives behind Barack's big stances: his religious conversion, his opposition to the war, his complicated relationship with blacks and Mayor Daley, etc. Still, it effectively presses a point that really should be pretty obvious by now: that the conventional (and conventionally lazy) media myth of Barack Obama as a pie-in-the-sky, naive carebear of a candidate is profoundly ill-informed. Personally, I don't find it difficult to believe at all that he is a pragmatist in practice even if he's ideologically left of center. In fact, I think that's precisely what many people find appealing.

Then again, I'm pretty forgiving of campaign tactics because I'm of the opinion that a) there's no such thing as a fair fight, and b) if you really believe that you can change things for the better, you are morally obligated to play to win. If a little-used rule allows you to challenge the signatures that a candidate needs to get on the ballot, do it. If the rules state that you can gerrymander the f**k out of your district if your party runs the show on Jan. 1, 2001, then do it. If the rules are unjust, they should be changed outside of election season. The same applies with negative advertising: if your opponent is a douchebag, there's nothing wrong with running an ad calling him a douchebag.

Obviously, there are some tactics that, though legal, are beyond the pale, and every individual has to decide what their own "line" is. I personally think a campaign should remain fundamentally honest, both about themselves and their opponents, so that voters can make an informed decision. That's my line. To me, then, it matters a lot that John McCain calls himself "an early critic of Bush on the war" when he was one of his vocal supporters, while Barack challenging his opponents' signatures (signatures that were in fact found to be inadmissible, I should add) is trivia.

guns up

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue finally figures out how to lessen the crowds at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport: by allowing people to carry guns into the airport. From TPM:
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said Monday that guns should be allowed in public areas of the nation's busiest airport.

And he suggested his own wife might want to pack a firearm for long walks between the parking lot and the terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.

"If my wife wanted to carry a gun, if she was going from the parking lot, walking from one of those far parking lots to pick up a grandchild or something like that, I think that's a good idea, yes," he said Monday.

Earlier this year, Perdue, a Republican, signed legislation that allows Georgians who have passed criminal background checks to carry concealed weapons onto mass transit, as well as into state parks and restaurants that serve alcohol. The new law took effect July 1.

Yeah, you read that right. He said he wants to allow men with guns into the airport so that his wife will be less likely to be mugged there. No flaws in that logic!

Monday, July 14, 2008

well, that answers that

Barack slaps down the Iraq "flip flop" bs in the New York Times, reiterating his commitment to withdrawal over 16 months.

I still would like to hear more about this "residual force" that he proposes to keep in Iraq. 1 brigade? 3 brigades? 100 military trainers and a platoon of Navy Seals? This is not a trivial distinction.

Nevertheless, consider the possibility: if Obama is elected, there is a chance that we could be mostly out of Iraq by this time in 2010. Imagine.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

no one is safe anymore

From The Wall Street Journal:
Fast-growing retailer Steve & Barry's LLC is expected to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as early as Wednesday, say people familiar with the matter, a collapse that stands to hurt everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to the nation's struggling mall owners.

Didn't see that one coming. You would think a store specializing in dirt cheap athletic apparel would do pretty well during a recession, but I guess not. Perhaps this is evidence of who's getting hit by these tough times, and who isn't.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

For the Horde!

I don't stray into the realm of video games on this blarg often, and for those of you who utterly foreign to that culture, I apologize for the exclusivity of this post. Still, I just had to note this interview with one of the contributors of an academic book on World of Warcraft. One of the things that makes WoW such a rich playground for social/cultural scientists is the division of all the players into 2 separate and warring factions, each themselves consisting of a number of "races." People have written before on the tendency of WoW players to develop real-life loyalty to their faction's brand, often assuming that their faction is composed of more mature or competent people (or that the game designers are biased toward the other faction), but at least one chapter in this book deals with the cultural echoes within the factions themselves, as written into the Warcraft universe.

The money quote:
Can you summarize the thesis of the chapter you contributed to the book?

Essentially: the Alliance and Horde don't represent good versus evil; they represent familiarity/normativity in a white Western context versus a conglomerate of Others, whose Otherness is connected to real-world groups that have historically been subjugated (and are still being subjugated). The rest of the chapter addresses the issues that come along with that, with a focus on the Horde, and with close readings of how each Horde race fits into my model. I argue that Trolls correspond with a kind of Afro-Caribbean Blackness; Tauren with Native Americans/Canadian First Nations peoples; Orcs as a kind of "sink category" into which all sorts of negative stereotypes about Blackness in particular and colonization in general seep; Blood Elves with white drug addicts; and the Undead with an ultimate, Kristevan abjection. All of these categories represent groups who are considered lesser, and are in some way subjugated, by white Western society (with the potential exception of the Undead, although they represent the ultimate Other in a more symbolic sense).

The fly in the ointment, though, is that these aren't direct representations, but are rather essentialised, stereotyped, often racist representations, which in turn may have an impact on the real-world perception of these groups.

Is it odd that I always preferred the Horde?

In case you were wondering, US servers sport more Alliance players than Horde, while EU servers are almost 2:1 Horde to Alliance. Far and away the most popular Horde race is the Blood Elves (which is also the only physically attractive Horde race), and the least popular are the Trolls and Orcs.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Supremes ain't what they used to be

It's really more of a Weekly Standard, George W. Bush brand of conservatism than a Roberts Court brand, but still closer to the truth than it should be.

In other Onion news, this is the funniest s**t I've seen in months.

The AP hops aboard the Crazy Train

So much for that "Obama, media darling" tripe.

Of course, even the press has previously admitted that the press is McCain's base, so this should not come as a surprise. This is a whole other playing field, and it's even less "even" than the last one.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

evolution, in some more than others

Amanda Marcotte links to an email exchange between Phyllis Schlafly's idiot son and founder of internet laughing stock Conservapedia, and microbiologist Richard Lenski. The long and short of it is that Lenski has been working a dozen cultures of e. coli for 20 years now and triggered a beneficial mutation in one of the cultures-- meaning, of course, that they evolved-- allowing them to absorb a nutrient called citrate that e. coli normally can't use.

Lenski, I should mention, is no mean scholar; he is a "Distinguished Professor" in the Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Dept. at Michigan State (it tells you something about the caliber of MSU's microbiologists that Microbiology and Molecular Genetics has its own department there; generally universities have one dept. for the full spectrum of biology). He is also a former MacArthur Fellow and current member of the National Academy of Sciences.

So when I tell you that Andy Schlafly emailed Herr Professor and rudely asked for "the data supporting your remarkable claims so that we can review it, and note where in the data you find justification for your conclusions," you can appreciate how far li'l Andy and the He Man Lernin'-Haters Club has waded from the shallow end of the intellectual swimming pool. The first sign it won't go well: Schlafly, in an attempt to burnish his academic credentials, appends the letters of his pedigree to the end of his name, including his Bachelor's degree. Ouch.

It appears, judging from PZ Myers' synopsis of the events, that scientists typically just delete the emails of cretins looking to garble their work and make a scene of it, but Dr. Lenski's inner educator won out, and he decided to make this a teachable moment (the whole conversation is available on Conservapedia's website). He wrote an unnecessarily polite letter very gently pointing out that, ahem, "the data" is all included in the paper he published on the subject and is widely available from a little-known place called "most university libraries" as well as online from his own website!

When Andy writes again requesting "the key underlying data" behind Lenski's paper (and presumptuously CC'ing the journal that published the paper!), Lenski sends a second, much less measured, reply that I strongly suggest you take a look at. The post-scripts are a real dandy.


Ace reporting from the Washington Post has discovered that Barack Obama got a 5.625% interest rate loan in 2005 when the average loan for that area was...5.93%! CLEARLY this is evidence of massive corruption on the part of the Obamas!!!!!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

what Clark said

Here's the significant part of the now-infamous Wesley Clark moment on Face the Nation:
CLARK: He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee. And he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in the Navy that he commanded — that wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, "I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not, do you want to take the risk, what about your reputation, how do we handle this publicly? He hasn't made those calls, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: Can I just interrupt you? I have to say, Barack Obama hasn't had any of these experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down.

CLARK: I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.

I'm sorry, is that even a debatable point? "Getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down" can be evidence of patriotism or courage or 20/20 vision, but of course it's not a qualification to become president! There is no skill whatsoever that you learn flying a fighter plane or being in a Vietnamese prison that is readily transferable to being the chief executive. Not one.

And for the record, there's an implicit argument in Schieffer's statement that it's a better service to this country to get in a fighter plane than to become a community organizer, and that's really chaps me. It's part of that old canard that the only way to "fight for freedom" is to join the military despite the fact that every threat to our freedom since at least World War II and perhaps the Civil War has emanated not from foreign invaders but from our own government and our own employers. Passing up a hot shot New York business to become a community organizer on the South Side is pretty frakin' solid service to this country if you ask me.